I can never say that I was too interested in history growing up. But one of the rare moments from my relationship with history that profoundly stands out to me was in the 5th grade when we read about some guy named Norman Rockwell and some of his famous paintings. It was one of the first times my reaction wasn’t to shrug it off and say, whatever. Granted, I was ten or eleven years old at the time so not much of this made sense, but I distinctly remember The Four Freedoms paintings – Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. The paintings have cropped up elsewhere since then, but there was something about the quartet that struck a cord with me. And over the last few days I have been thinking about the one that resonates loudest, Freedom from Fear.
The paintings are based on a speech from 1941 from Franklin D. Roosevelt to the United Nations and appeared on the Saturday Evening Post over four consecutive weeks in 1943. Seventy-two years later, both Rockwell and the paintings are cornerstones of classic Americana. After the events of Thursday, October 1st, 2015 I have been thinking about Freedom from Fear and how we have more to fear in the present day than in 1943, half way through the Second World War.
On May 21st, 1998, a full year before the Columbine Massacre, which set the world stage for large scale violence, the Thurston High School Shooting occurred fifty-three miles from where I currently sit, right now, in the safety and comfort of my dorm room, and seventeen years in the past.
It is commonly accepted that a “mass shooting” is four or more people shot in relation to gun violence. And depending on where you look, numbers suggest that there has been a mass shooting every week for the year 2015, or there have been some 142-school shootings since Sandy Hook, or there has been a gun related tragedy every day this year. The numbers rarely agree beyond, “This happens to often and something needs to change.”
In just the last few years I remember where I was when the news of the South Carolina church shooting broke this summer. Where I was when headlines broke about Sandy Hook, the Isla Vista Killings in 2014 at the University of California Santa Barbra, Aurora Theatre, the Arapahoe High School shooting in 2013 because of the effects it had on the National Speech and Debate Association of which I was a member, the Clackamas Mall Shooting, which also happened too close to home for comfort.
The fact I can name so many without having to look at an official list is saddening. The fact that the most recent tragedy happened so close to home is heartbreaking. My university is closely connected with Umpqua Community College both for its dual enrollment program and because so many students are from the area. The increased presence of Oregon State Police on campus is just a reminder of the fact we are not free from fear. Mass shootings can happen anywhere, at any time, often with little warning. My university has recently started a campaign of what to do if there is a shooting, which in an ideal world would not be necessary.
What really hit home last Thursday came from talking with my mom.
“I told your sister last week how difficult it is as a parent to send your kid off to school, wishing them a good day, and hoping you see them safe, at home later that day.”
The conversation I had with my dad was equally numbing. “Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children. It goes against the natural order of things.” I now feel an obligation to keep in touch with my parents more frequently because of fear. I am afraid of something happening and them getting horrible news because of the status quo and even vice versa.
Before details reach reporters, we can often guess reoccurring elements of mass shootings since they are so frequent and often go one of only a few ways. Mass shootings have become formulaic. As someone who follows the news, it is merely a waiting game of when the next one unfolds since this country has become so numb to what should not be a regular or frequent occurrence.
I think Stephen Colbert has said it best since Thursday. Between John Oliver and Colbert, the sobering fact is finally coming to the forefront from these two well-known comedians- something has to change and after a mass shooting is the worse time to talk about mental health. My hope is that Umpqua will be a turning point for change, especially with the upcoming election year, and that UCC might be the last scar on this country before something finally changes for the better. And I hope that some day in the near future the Freedom of Fear is once again just a painting and a guaranteed freedom.